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Williamstown Historical Commission Discusses Traffic Circle Plan
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
06:26AM / Saturday, August 21, 2021
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The Williamstown Historical Commission is concerned about how a proposed roundabout in the Five Corners District of South Williamstown would impact traffic flow into the Store at Five Corners, located just south of the junction of Routes 7 and 43.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Massachusetts Department of Transportation officials Tuesday met with the town's Historical Commission about a plan that would change the look of a historic district in South Williamstown.
 
MassDOT is in the design stage of a roundabout at the junctions of Routes 43 and 7, known as the Five Corners Historic District.
 
Tuesday's Historical Commission meeting provided the agency with an opportunity for outreach with interested stakeholders to generate support for what would be a major shift at the site.
 
"The more people we bring into the circle to collaborate with us and get engaged early at this more impersonal level, it leads to a more successful project," MassDOT project manager Michael Trepanier said.
 
"What we hoped to accomplish today was to open a dialogue, get some wheels turning in folks' heads. At some point, we may request, for our 106 review, some kind of documentation from the commission saying that you're good with this. That's more from a regulatory standpoint. But as we get further along and get past the preliminary 25 percent design, we want to reconvene in more of a charrette style, some workshops on these designs and different alternatives."
 
Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act requires MassDOT to "solicit and
consider the views of the local historical commissions" about projects in areas of historic significance.
 
The Five Corners area was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. The Store at Five Corners in the district dates to the late 18th century.
 
The commission asked Trepanier about how motorists will continue to be able to turn into the parking lot at the currently dormant store once it returns to operation.
 
"If you were coming south down Route 7, you'd enter the roundabout this way, and we'll allow for this [left] turn across this painted median," Trepanier said, demonstrating on a drawing displayed on his screen during the virtual meeting. "Those are details we're still working out with our district partners and other experts in our traffic section. … We think, given [the driveway's] distance beyond the exit of the roundabout, we have enough, at least a car's distance here. There's still enough queue space for one car to stack behind [a turning vehicle]."
 
Trepanier began his presentation with an overview of the need for the project, showing MassDOT data on accidents at the junction and explaining how a rotary will have a calming effect on traffic that the current flashing red and yellow lights do not.
 
"The road currently comes in a much straighter approach," he said. "We're deflecting this to create some of that traffic calming and make it much more visible for a person coming out [on Route 43]. If you're coming to the roundabout from that direction, you're deflected as well into the circle and quite visible to someone waiting to enter it from the north.
 
"Roundabouts, from an intersection improvement perspective … in our industry, they're like a silver bullet for these types of contexts. We had some initial concerns about the hill [coming down Route 7], and we consulted with some of our colleagues around the state, and everyone came to the same consensus that maybe you'll have some issues with the learning curve of regular users. But over time and pretty quickly, people adjust to these types of treatments and really like them after the fact."
 
Much of the discussion on Tuesday concerned how roundabouts, in addition to improving traffic flow, can beautify an intersection through the use of plantings and architectural features.
 
Historical Commission Chair Gerrit Blauvelt encouraged the MassDOT planners to look at historical images of the Five Corners District to draw inspiration for their aesthetic designs. Sarah Currie suggested that the agency engage with members of the Williamstown Garden Club and pollinator advocacy group Bee Friendly Williamstown to discuss the types of plantings to be incorporated into the design.
 
Jeffrey Shrimpton of MassDOT's Cultural Resources Unit told the commission that the agency will consult closely with the town body as it moves through the design of the proposed project.
 
In other business on Tuesday, the commission said goodbye to Blauvelt, who recently submitted his resignation, and elected Nate Budington to serve as chair.
 
It also discussed a letter from Williams College seeking input from the commission on a review of future capital plans for the campus.
 
Keenan Chenail, a project manager in Williams' Office of Planning, Design & Construction told the commission that the school is consulting with Sasaki Associates, a Boston design firm, on  "flexible framework and guiding principles for the current and future capital improvement decisions that will be made on campus."
 
Architect Andrus Burr volunteered to be the point of contact between the commission and the Chenail's office.
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